GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment,28th November 2003

GM-Free Labelling "Impossible" - Conference Told

A labelling system for "GE Free" foods proposed by the Royal Commission on GM is 'impossible' because of widespread contamination by GE soy and other GE products a conference has been told. 

Representatives from industry, government and consumer groups met at the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Wellington for the first time since February 2002 to review progress on a voluntary labelling scheme. Speakers from the Commerce Commission, AgriQuality and other industry groups said it was so hard to prevent accidental GE contamination in processed foods that a "GE Free " claim could lead to prosecution under the Fair Trading Act.

The Commerce Commission is already taking one manufacturer to court after a product labelled GE-free was found to have 0.02% contamination. The Commission was challenged over their role in creating a "chilling effect" on companies wanting to sell GM-free foods.

The Commerce Commission was also challenged to prosecute misleading claims by organisations like the Life Sciences Network who have pushed GE foods by saying people would have the right to choose GM-Free products and that it is possible to have "co-existence".

However Francis Weavers from the Life Sciences Network claimed that his organisation had never claimed people would be allowed to eat 100% GE-free foods or that segregation would be guaranteed. " We said people would have a choice but with a threshold, and we never said complete separation was possible, " Mr Weavers said.

"That is completely outrageous," says Jon Carapiet." The impression given to the public all along was that there would be real consumer choice not a choice between 'a lot' or 'a little' GE contamination." Industry lobbyists now seem to claim the Royal Commission was wrong to propose a voluntary GE-free labelling system because they always knew the basis of "moving forward' with GE would make it impossible. 

There is clear evidence that people - including the Royal Commission- have been misled into thinking industry would be able to protect people's rights to buy affordable GE-free food. Why else would the Royal Commission have made such a proposal for labelling?
The meeting also heard that EU standards for labelling GE product including animal feed were being introduced, but that New Zealand rules on labelling has serious gaps. 
Gaps in labelling of 'hidden' GE ingredients and the absence of any requirement for signaling GE in foods sold in cafes, and take-ways- need to be addressed. GE-Free labels would not be needed if foods with GE-derived ingredients were properly labelled. However the problem of inadequate testing of such GE ingredients by the authorities must not be forgotten and warrants their withdrawal from sale.

Urgent action is also needed from government- working with the international community - to prevent more contamination. GE Soy, canola and maize are already a problem and it is immoral to push on with other commercial releases like wheat when industry knows it will destroy people's right to buy guaranteed GE-free food.

GE Free NZ in food and environment reject the notion that it is impossible to have GE-free labels but the conference agreed that contamination made guarantees for some products almost impossible- particularly soy.

Representatives from the Grocery Retail industry pointed out that both major supermarket chains were committed to a "GE-Free" policy in their house brands and that they were responding to a clear consumer demand for GE-free products. The government's will to preserve that choice would be shown by their willingness to help the process in coming months.

Many foods known to be GE-Free - including all fruit and vegetables -could be immediately labelled and there was consensus at the meeting that government should be encouraged to take a proactive role in advancing a labelling standard so people can choose.

Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370

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